Elon Musk Buys Twitter: What Does That Mean for Your Data?

Image of Elon Musk making a funny face and hand gestures.
Elon Musk Buying Twitter for $44.6Bn!

On Tuesday, April 26th, the managing board of Twitter (NYSE: TWTR) agreed to accept the take over bid from Tesla and SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk. As a result, Musk is now buying the company for $54.2 per share, or $44.6Bn in total. Many in the media view this as a concern. Objectively, though, what does Elon Musk buying Twitter mean for your data?

Since Twitter is a private company under individual ownership, the course can go in many different directions. Twitter still has to follow some rules and guidelines regardless of who the owner is. That said, Twitter’s new ownership opens up new opportunities for and concerns over data collection.

For now, these 3 things are certain:

  1. Musk is a public proponent of free speech
  2. He is battling allegations of his using Twitter to influence the market
  3. Twitter is notorious for collecting a lot of user data 

Musk secured the funding, and Twitter accepted the offer, so the takeover at this time is imminent. For users, this should cause additional caution, but only just a bit more than it was under previous management. Let’s recall what we know about Elon Musk and Twitter’s antics.

What We Know About Elon Musk and Twitter

Free Speech Absolutism

From the cybersecurity and data security perspective, free speech is an excellent thing in theory. The platform’s new management only warrants little concern about bans and censorship of certain ideas.

Yet, the issue lies in the muddy water surrounding issues like doxxing, online harassment, and other cyber-social problems that could arise. The line between online banter and harassment is thin and often blurry. That will also make it more challenging for you to request securing your private info and reputation.

Experts recommend checking the information you have shared with all platforms and keeping it to a minimum.

Under SEC Investigation

Back iIn 2018, Elon Musk triggered a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation, disclosing publicly that he hasd secured to buy Tesla shares at $420 per share and make it private.

While many considered it a joke (the $420 share price is parroting the cannabis use meme), the Tesla shareholders brought a class-action lawsuit against Elon Musk. They also stated  he had knowingly made a false statement at the time of the tweet.

Twitter Data Collection

People were increasingly concerned that, once Twitter becomes a company owned by a single person, data collection will become an issue. While this might be true, such issues exist at present as well. Instead, we should wonder if this practice would change under Musk’s ownership.

As clearly stated in the Twitter Privacy Policy, the platform regularly collects metadata and your visited websites. It also collects your IP address, operating system, cookie information, and what browser or app you’re using. This is also on top of the location and information you provide with each tweet.

Ironically, after the Twitter hack in 2020, Elon Musk’s information was one of the accounts breached and leakedshared. This wasn’t the first time, and actual damage was minimal, but Musk might also focus on these issues in the future.

If you’re concerned about your cybersecurity, your data is already at risk. Don’t wait for Musk’s Twitter takeover to make changes. 

Image of a typewriter with a mounted paper that says FREEDOM OF SPEECH.
Public stance for the freedom of speech doesn’t mean much for your private data!

Private Entities and Censorship

On January 8th, 2021, Twitter permanently banned the 45th US President, Donald J. Trump, from the platform. Twitter stated that the former president had made inflammatory statements around the January 6th riots on Capitol Hill, which many criticized as an attempt to incite an insurrection.

While Trump didn’t face any official charges, the Twitter community management decided his tweets were sufficient to warrant a permanent ban. Legally, this is completely within the company’s realm of authority: it can ban or allow anyone.

A company can allow or remove problematic speech, and both options can have a direct influence on its popularity. . That’s what happened in the Trump v. Twitter case. Many believe that Trump’s Twitter is a major contributor to his populist political success.

Currently, Trump is still banned from Twitter, but this might change soon. In fact, Musk has publicly stated he prefers temporary bands over permanent ones. He also clarified that the platform will still need some moderation. That way, it can stay under federal law and prevent issues, such as calls to violence.

We’ll still have to see how this stance might change the company’s policy, but it’ll definitely change. We still have to ask: was Twitter data ever really private?

Twitter Data Was Never Private

Twitter has made many efforts to ensure your meta-data stays private. They also claim it isn’t connected with your email and name. This also counts double for personal documents  given for verification purposes.

Yet, the data you’re offering on your page was never private. Your tweets, pictures, videos, and all info ingrained in the tweet (location and mentions) are all public records.

This has become apparent after the Twitter breach in 2020, where private information was leaked after a cyberattack. 

A lot of media outlets actively use tweets to convey remarks. Many also use screenshots of tweets to visualize news. Such media is not subject to copyright, especially when the outlet can claim that sharing the news would be in the public interest.

If you’re concerned about your data being shared, you can remove most of the data from your account. If you want to use a verified account, know that your data will be online permanently. Your data will also (mostly) belong to Twitter.

Preventing Doxxing and Data Leaks

To improve user privacy, Twitter changed its guidelines in December 2021. Under these new rules, you can’t share photos of other people without their consent. That doesn’t extend to sharing already published photos and media. It also doesn’t cover screenshots of tweets containing such media. This is a step in the right direction to prevent doxxing and other types of harassment.

However, this rule is so vague, so it’s possible to issue a complaint against anyone. What’s more, Twitter isn’t just a microblogging platform anymore. It has become a worldwide journalist hub, so this might also become an issue with news distribution.

Emerson T. Brooking, a Resident Senior Fellow at Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, stated that “a lot [about this rule] is hinging on public interest”.

Screenshot of an Emmerson T Brooking Tweet.
Emmerson Brooking explains his view on the new Twitter rules.

The Bottom Line

Many people are concerned about the future of the popular microblogging platform. Others believe this is a great change. Realistically, though, things on Twitter will likely remain the same. Guidelines might relax . Elon Musk may even reduce permanent bans to temporary ones. Yet, Twitter’s guidelines probably won’t change.

It’s also worth noting that Elon Musk doesn’t need to misuse his ownership to benefit from Twitter. In fact, he already has a huge reach as a user. Even though he silenced his critics in the past, we have no proof that he used anything but social pressure.

Still, the results remain to be seen.

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